What to look out for in the South Korean K-League
The South Korean top flight returns on Friday
Footballing action is beginning to return across the globe, and it’s the South Korean K-League which is the latest league to get back into the swing of things.
Reigning champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors get the new season underway against Suwon Samsung Bluewings at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium on Friday morning.
But before the action gets back underway, here are some things to look out for in the 2020 South Korean K-League.
Can Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors maintain their recent dominance?
After the league turned professional in 1983, no team has won the title more than Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
The Warriors, who are led by José Mourinho’s former assistant José Morais, have won seven of the last 11 league campaigns including the last three on the spin, as well as finishing runners up twice in that time in 2012 and 2016.
In fact, in the last 11 seasons, they’ve only finished outside the top two on two occasions, where in there 2010 and 2013 seasons, they slipped to third place.
They’re not alone at the top of the pile though, as they’re the joint most successful side along with Seongnam FC. The Seongnam Magpies haven’t won a league title since 2006 though, with their best recent campaign being a second placed finish in 2009.
FC Seoul have six titles to their name, with other notable mentions going too Pohang Steelers’ five titles, while Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Busan IPark are equal on four apiece.
It’s a league which has produced more AFC Champions League winners than any other country alongside the Japanese J-League too. The K-League has six winners, picking up 11 titles from 38 seasons, most recently in 2016 when Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors beat Al-Ain 3-2 in the two-legged final.
Has the league season been shortened?
The K-League season had been due to get underway in early March but league authorities have now cut the length of the season back to ensure that they can finish the campaign in time for the next campaign to start as normal.
In a regular season, each team would play 38 regular season matches. This campaign, that’s been cut back by nine matches, meaning every side will play 27 matches.
These 27 matches are broken up into 22 regular season matches, mean each team plays each other twice, before five ‘Final Round’ matches.
The league winners will automatically qualify for the AFC Champions League group stage, with the two teams who finish second and third entering the AFC Champions League play-off round.
The threat of relegation remains though. Typically, the bottom two sides will be relegated to the K-League 2, however, Sangju Sangmu have already had relegation confirmed at the end of this campaign no matter where they finish due to moving their franchise to another city.
Games to watch
Defending champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will be hoping they can get their campaign underway with three points. They’re odds-on 2/3 favourites against Suwon Samsung Bluewings, with the away side 19/5 to win.
Last year’s runners up Ulsan Hyundai FC will be hoping to go one better this season. They start with a home tie against Sangju Sangmu Phoenix on Saturday morning. It’s Ulsan who are 8/13 favourites, with the away side 4/1.
Incheon United take on Daegu while Gwangju host Seongnam FC in Saturday’s other two fixtures.
Players to watch
Remember Crystal Palace and Bolton Wanderers legend Lee Chung-yong? The former Premier League midfielder signed for 2019 K-League runners up Ulsan Hyundai FC in March on a free transfer from 2. Bundesliga side VfL Bochum. The 31-year-old could make his debut against Sangju Sangmu on Saturday.
Ulsan also secured the signing of 2018 World Cup hero Cho Hyun-woo. The South Korean number one put in three top quality performances, including keeping out the likes of Timo Werner, Marco Reus and Thomas Muller for a clean sheet against defending world champions Germany.
Elsewhere, Australian international Adam Taggart is one of the K-League’s biggest stars, with the 26-year-old striker grabbing 20 goals in his first 32 appearances for Suwon Samsung Bluewings, finishing as the 2019 top goalscorer.
All odds and markets are correct as of date of publication.